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House of Lords Reform: A History

Volume 3. 1960-1969: Reforms Attempted

Peter Raina

Volume 3 of Peter Raina’s magisterial history covers the 1960s and draws on newly released documents. In astonishing detail, it traces new plans drawn up during the Macmillan-Wilson era to reform the House of Lords. ‘Mission impossible,’ a civil servant declared. But when, to remain a Commons MP, Tony Benn insisted on disclaiming an inherited peerage, he started off a fresh willingness to tackle old problems. The Peerages Act 1963 allowed peers the option of disclaimer and, at last, gave equal rights in the Upper House to Scottish and women inheritors.
A Labour government came in, and in 1967 gained the majority needed to embark on bold legislation. But it feared interference, so comprehensive plans were backed for changing the whole complexion of two-chamber politics. Led by Lord Shackleton and the intellectual Richard Crossman, schemes were devised and inter-party talks got under way – at first in a spirit of cooperation. But had the party elites listened to their fiery back-benchers? When a bill was introduced into parliament, the scenes were unforgettable …
This volume tells not just the story, but reveals the intricate thinking of those who wanted to make a bicameral system work in the age of modern party politics.
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Chapter 17: 1968. Bill to Abolish the House of Lords: William Hamilton



1968. Bill to Abolish the House of Lords: William Hamilton

Lord Shackleton and Richard Crossman on the Labour side, and Lords Carrington and Jellicoe on the Conservative side were well aware of how, by mutual understanding, they had arrived so harmoniously at the conclusions made by the inter-party conference. The government was even more conscious of the significance of these conclusions. And if the government now decided to draft its own White Paper, it would have to be very much based on the agreements reached at the inter-party conference. With the prime minister’s knowledge, Shackleton and Crossman were entrusted with the matter. They were greatly assisted by Michael Wheeler-Booth. In fact it was Wheeler-Booth who did the major work.

In spite of the prime minister’s statement in the Commons on 20 June, the conclusions of the inter-party conference (called the White Paper) were circulated among government circles for consideration. The following letter bears witness to this.

B.L. Crowe to R. Walker1

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